Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Marianne Hayes. Marianne is a longtime freelance writer and content marketing specialist. Since earning her degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Central Florida, her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, Yoga Journal, and more. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.
You've done the work, hustled hard, and officially crossed the college finish line—good on you! Now it's time to start the next chapter (aka, your working life).
This can feel like a big transition because, well, it is. For perhaps the first time ever, you'll be managing your money and navigating the workforce. It's little wonder that many new grads describe their transition to the professional world as exhausting and anxiety-inducing, according to the Harvard Business Review.
But kicking off your career won't feel as daunting if you've got a solid plan in place for keeping stressors at bay. Feeling nervous about your first day on a new job? We tapped the experts to drum up these six do's and don'ts to make it a little easier.
1. Remember that first impressions are everything.
As the old saying goes, you'll never have a second chance to make a first impression. It's wise advice when starting off at a new job.
"First impressions are incredibly powerful, even things like showing up prepared with something to take notes when going into a meeting," says career and leadership coach Kate O'Sullivan, founder of KO Coaching. "Invest in getting some good professional clothes so that you can feel good about what you're wearing, because things like that really do take a long time to overcome."
O'Sullivan adds that having a positive attitude when someone asks you to do something that's not super exciting can go a long way. You're going to be making a ton of first impressions during the first few months of a new job; make them count.
2. Seek out mentors and sponsors.
You're not going to lock down a stellar mentor or sponsor on your first day on the job, but you can pay attention and think about who you need to get to know within the company. This will lay the groundwork for building relationships with those who can eventually take you under their wing and advocate for you.
"Is there a part of the company you're interested in, or somebody who brought you in or interviewed you who you really clicked with?" asks O'Sullivan. "Think about who could be your champion within the company."
Spend time clarifying your vision for where you'd like your career to be five years from now, then zero in on someone who's already working in that position. To be clear, outright asking someone to be your mentor on your first day of work isn't the way to go. Instead, it's about cultivating organic relationships and doing great work to prove your worth.
Just don't get discouraged by the not-so-glamorous everyday tasks that go hand-in-hand with entry-level work. O'Sullivan warns that almost all new gigs right out of college involve some degree of menial labor and administrative work. It's just the way it is.
"Don't judge whether that's the career path for you based on your first six months," she says. "Look at what people who are three, five, 10 years ahead of you are doing. If their job looks really cool and interesting, you're actually on a good career path."
3. Get a grip on your salary.
Understanding the difference between your salary and your actual take-home pay is crucial to your success.
"When we're talking about salary, one of the most important things to know is that if your offer letter says you're going to make $50,000 a year, your after-tax salary on a monthly basis is not going to be $50,000 divided by 12," said Cristina Behrens, a Los Angeles-based certified financial planner and CEO of Mana Money School.
So where will your salary actually go? As far as taxes are concerned, it all depends on the state and city you live in. The other piece of the puzzle has to do with any pre-tax benefits you're enrolled in—think employer-sponsored health insurance plans, retirement plans, and the like. All these costs come out of your paycheck before it hits your bank account.
Most people can expect to take home roughly 70% to 80% of their salary, according to Behrens.
4. Create a realistic budget.
Now that you've got an idea of how much you'll actually be earning, it's time to make a plan for how you'll manage it. We're talking about budgets, and they're kind of a big deal. It's dangerously easy to overspend and have little left over for savings when you don't have a plan.
Behrens recommends breaking down your paycheck this way:
- 50% for essential living expenses like rent, student loan payments, your cell phone bill, etc.
- 30% for lifestyle expenses that bring additional joy to your life, like restaurants, streaming services, happy hour, etc.
- 20% for savings, which includes everything from retirement to your next big vacation. Make a goal number, then break it up into a monthly savings target.
5. Unpack your benefits.
This one's a biggie. In fact, 80% of employers say their employees don't even read communication related to their benefits, according to a 2016 International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey.
When getting started with a new company, take a moment to connect with human resources and clarify what benefits are on the table. What kind of health insurance plans are available? Do they offer any employer-sponsored retirement plans? Your 60s may feel like light-years away, but the sooner you start building your nest egg, the better. A 401(k) with any sort of employer match is literally free money. For every dollar you put in, your employer will kick in a percentage on their end.
"The 401(k) clearly is an investment in your future," said Behrens, who added that a 3% match is pretty standard. "Another added benefit is that it also reduces your taxable income."
If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan, you can also ask if your company offers a health savings account (HSA). These accounts let you make pre-tax contributions, which you can then use to cover qualified medical expenses. The balance rolls over from year to year, and once you turn 65, you can use that money for whatever you want. A flexible spending account (FSA) is another awesome perk. It's kind of like an HSA, except the balance doesn't roll over from year to year.
6. Use social media wisely.
LinkedIn is a great social media platform for networking and connecting with colleagues and higher-ups within your industry.
"You can start connecting with people you're meeting in those first few months, and that's where you should be connecting with them; not on anything else," said O'Sullivan.
Facebook and Instagram, she warns, are for personal friends only. You can connect with peers from work here, but only if you're friends outside of work—and definitely don't friend request a manager or supervisor.
Nailing your first day at a new job doesn't have to be stressful. The best piece of advice gleaned from our experts is to remember the big picture; with both your finances and your career choices.